A heirloom wedding dress

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vintage dress

How many mums have kept their wedding dress up in the attic, with the thought that perhaps one day, one of their daughters or grand daughters might want to wear the dress again? The reality is that in most cases, the dress is completely out of fashion, and also completely the wrong size. If you do really want to wear a heirloom dress, there are many things that can be done to modernise a dress, but there are also some things that you will have to consider as limiting factors: 

One of the toughest to correct or match is colour and appearance. You might not think it, but there are tons of shades of white and ivory and in a spectrum of texture, softness, sheen and firmness. With age, there is often also slight discolouration of the dress, which, on a positive note, adds to its vintage character. The old dress does dictate the colour of your soon-to-be updated dress - so for example if the dress is a cool white with white embroidery or lace, it may  not look the best to team this with warmer ivories. This is not a big problem if you don't need to purchase any new fabric for the dress, but, if mum's dress is too small or too short, or if you would like to add additional features such as sleeves, or an over layer (e.g. lace or chiffon) on the bodice or skirt, colour and texture matching to the old dress become essential. 

Size is a big player. Taking a dress in or making it shorter is a lot easier to making a dress one or two sizes bigger or having to lengthen the skirt. It is possible, but you might have to have some design changes and additional matching fabrics - all of which may also work totally in your favour for a modernisation job.

The state of the dress: if it is grandma's dress, or a very delicate and fragile version of mum's dress, extra care must be taken by the bridal seamstress to not further damage the dress. The fabric and /or the seams might be weakened with age, which is something to be considered not only for the modifications work, but also for when it will be worn, particularly if it is on the fitted/snug side.

As a future bride considering to wear a heirloom dress, you will have to consider the previous design carefully and what you wish to keep as a feature or design, and what you are willing to give up. Some brides-to-be want to keep the fabrics or most of the fabrics, and have a redesign of the dress in a more modern version. Others want to keep the dress as close to the original design as possible, with only modernisation features. Between these two extremes, there are a range of options, whereby you keep some of the fabric (e.g. the lace, if any) or some of the features (e.g. the skirt style, the bodice front, etc.). It is possible to rebuild the dress completely with any of these combinations, and in the end, in some cases, the new dress might look totally different to the old one, but you know that it came with much historical wealth.

modernised vintage dress In the two pictures of this blog, the original dress had the big puffy sleeves of the 80's, which while starting to be trendy again, were replaced by more floaty sleeves, shortened to a length that suited the bride. The lace at the front of the bodice was removed and the bodice re-built for a less cluttered, more modern effect but the beautiful princess waistline and the outer layer embroidered lace were kept. The double layer style was simplified into a cleaner cut, lengthened with a matching satin fabric.

Wearing the dress of someone dear to you at your own wedding is not everyone's cup of tea, but for the sentimentals of us who are considering it, it does not necessarily have to entail wearing the dress exactly as it was, or fitting into it.

If you are considering it, have a chat with a bridal seamstress to discuss your options, and who knows, you might be surprised with what can be done!



Blue Lily Magnolia is based in Nantwich, and specialises in wedding dress alterations, style modifications and bespoke wedding dressmaking. If you would like a chat, please contact Sharon directly on 07766766573 or at [email protected]



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